The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants employees 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during a 12-month period to attend to their health and parenting needs or those of their families and parents. Since its inception in 1993, FMLA requests have increased from employees needing to tend to their own health problems and those of their children or aging parents, and for childcare for deployed active duty military parents. As requests for FMLA leave have increased over the years, so too have the fines and penalties for employers who violate FMLA laws.
While the federal FMLA laws are specific, employers must still establish well defined corporate policies related to FMLA leave, including how the 12-month period is calculated. If the company policy is to consider the medical leave in terms of a calendar year, then the previous 12 months of employment determines how much leave the employee is entitled to in that calendar year. However, if the 12-month period is calculated on a rolling calendar year, then the employee can essentially take the last 12 weeks of one year and the first 12 weeks of the next.
Corporate policy needs to also stipulate if FMLA leave must include paid leave. It is within the rights of the employer to require paid leave as part of the 12 weeks of FMLA leave, but this must be clearly stated in the company’s policy and be applied consistently. It is imperative that employees understand this stipulation.
All managers authorized to provide FMLA leave need proper training to recognize the conditions that fall under FMLA laws, to fully understand the protected rights of their employees, and how to fully comply with all FMLA guidelines. A manager that fails to recognize employee leave as specified under the FMLA laws, or that denies qualified leave is in violation of these federal laws and therefore subject to fines, penalties and civil lawsuits.
Employers must also understand the laws of the state in which their business operates. Many individual states have enacted their own FMLA laws, which in some cases, overlap the federal mandates. Some states have enacted laws that grant leave to in-laws, domestic partners, and siblings, which does not count as federal FMLA leave. The misinterpretations between state and federal laws leave employers prone to a wide number of violations.
Employers need to keep copious records of all employees on FMLA leave. Failing to do so can result in inconsistencies in the number of weeks of leave granted to employees. Recognizing conditions that fall under the FMLA laws and documenting the dates of requests, conditions, and number of days or weeks of leave granted for each employee can avoid these pitfalls.
Employers can be sued in a discrimination lawsuit when there are inconsistencies in the amount of FMLA leave granted among corporate employees. Employers should keep copies of all notices sent to employees regarding FMLA policies, health benefit payments, records relating to FMLA disputes, certifications, or re-certifications, and all medical records.
The West Chester employment lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser provide legal counsel to help employers comply with federal and state FMLA laws. Call us at 484-318-7106 or contact us online to schedule a consultation today. Our West Chester, Pennsylvania offices serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and across the state.